Saltwater vs Freshwater Fly Fishing – What is the Difference? –

By far the most popular form of fly fishing is fishing in fresh water. However, as an experienced fly fisherman and guide, I can tell you that fly fishing on salt water is becoming increasingly popular. The most common questions I get are about the differences between fly fishing in saltwater and freshwater.

The main differences between saltwater and freshwater fly fishing are the equipment used, the fishing conditions and the methods used to catch fish. Sometimes there is some overlap between the two, but overall it is a completely different sport.

If you are considering switching from one to another, understanding these differences will save you time, money and frustration. In this article, I will discuss each of these differences and provide tips to avoid common mistakes.

Freshwater or saltwater – Do I need new equipment?

The two main differences between a freshwater flywheel and a saltwater flywheel are the size of the gear and its ability to resist corrosion in saltwater. Because of these factors, separate gearboxes are generally required, except in a few rare cases.

Difference between spindle and bobbin

Most freshwater fly fishermen fish for species from 1 to 15 pounds. These species include brook trout, rainbow trout, brown trout and salmon. The size of the rods used to catch these species ranges from 4 to 7 watts.

The coils used are adapted to the weight of the rod and are often equipped with an anti-leakage system. Freshwater coils are generally cheaper because the components are of lower quality and the strength requirements are lower. This is due to inadequate use in the control of freshwater species.

In comparison, salted game fish are usually much larger. This requires a more muscular outfit.

Common marine species are tarpon, permit, striped bass, bonefish and redfish. These fish range in size from 3 to 200 pounds. Given the size and fighting characteristics of these fish, fly rod sizes range from 8 to 12 watts.

In addition, the coils will be in operation most of the time and require heavy-duty, leak-proof resistance systems. When fishing saltwater, the emphasis is much more on the quality of the reel. If you plan to switch from freshwater to saltwater, make sure you use a salt-tolerant reel.

If gears overlap

Sometimes the transmissions used overlap. If you are a freshwater angler fishing for larger species such as rainbow trout or salmon, your gear will be similar to that used for small and medium-sized ocean species such as redfish and bonefish.

Even if you are a saltwater angler hunting smaller species with a 6W or 7W, you are fishing for medium to large freshwater species.

What about the line and the leader?

As you can probably guess, saltwater generally requires larger fly lines and greater guiding power. This is due to the size of the target species, the weight of your rod and the need to get rid of larger flies.

Saltwater pipeline and conductor

Fly lines for saltwater must be adapted to the weight of the core to be kneaded and to the ambient temperature.

Most saltwater destinations are tropical or have a warmer climate. Using a tropical fly line and an ideal line designed for the target species will help you avoid confusion and linear recall.

The floating line is most commonly used, but if you are fishing in deep channels or at depths greater than 6 feet, a diving intermediate line may be needed.

Lead material for use in salt water must undergo a 10 psi to 80 psi test. The average length of a leader in saltwater is 9 feet, but it is not uncommon for scary fish to grow up to 12 feet long.

Saltwater dumpsters have stronger articulated sections, usually in the 40 to 50 pound range, and taper to different dump sizes. For smaller varieties, a point can represent up to 10 pounds of dough, usually between 15 and 20 pounds.

Larger species, such as tarpon, are included in the class scale. These bite segments range from a 30-pound test to an 80-pound test. The size of the spikes and the bites are adjusted to the clarity of the water and the shyness of the target fisherman.

For a more in-depth discussion on the different uses of saltwater leaders, read my article Which leader is the right one for saltwater fishing?

Freshwater line and leader

Just like in saltwater, freshwater fly lines should match the weight of the fly rod being cast. These lines will be smaller in nature as the dimensions of the rod, fly and reins will be smaller.

Freshwater fly fishing generally takes place in colder conditions. Like mountain streams, Alaskan rivers and the Great Lakes. In such situations it makes sense to use cold water pipes.

Cold water fly lines are generally softer, so they don’t stress at lower temperatures and retain their memory.

Like fishing lines for saltwater fish, fishing lines for freshwater fish can also be purchased for specific species of fish. The vast majority of freshwater fisheries require a floating line. Situations where you need an intermediate or underwater line occur when you are launching large streamers that fly into deeper layers of fish.

The trout, especially the wild ones, have incredible views. This requires a significant reduction in the size of the leader. It is not uncommon to use tips in sizes 3x (8 lbs), 4x (6 lbs) and even up to 8x (1.75 lbs).

In addition, the precursors in freshwater are usually longer. The average length of a freshwater guide is 10 feet and can go up to 15 feet. If you are fishing for more aggressive freshwater species, such as bass, you can use a 7.5′ shorter leader.

The diameter of the leader also depends on the size of the fly being cast.

Freshwater flies are generally smaller because they mimic insects and are therefore easier to cast with a thinner head. Freshwater fishing methods are very varied and therefore require different types of bait for different applications.

For example, in some cases you may want parts of your chef to be visible so you can see when a fish has struck. It’s typical when you catch nymphs on a narrow line….

At other times you can cast very large flies or streamers. For that, leaders must be like salt water. Freshwater anglers are advised to have a 1 to 50 pound leader on hand.

in flight

Because of the large number of types and styles of flies, we will take this topic to the next level. You could write a whole novel about flies themselves, but ultimately the main differences between freshwater flies and saltwater flies are the types of bait found in different environments.

In freshwater habitats, insects and small bait are the main food source. A number of predator species are used to roaming the surface in search of land insects to eat. These insects include mosquitoes, mayflies, caddisflies, fleas and even grasshoppers and ants.

The flies used to catch fish such as trout mimic these insects and are released during their relative breeding season. These insects are small and the flies used are therefore also small.

As freshwater fish grow, they incorporate larger and larger prey items into their diet. Small fish like dabbling tongues or leeches are now on the menu. In such situations, large freshwater flies, such as. B. Snapping flies, cast to catch fish.

By moving to saline habitats, food sources will change. Common marine prey includes crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp, and baitfish. This prey is much larger than that of insects, so sea squirrels in the wild are usually larger. Depending on the size of the fish you choose, you can cast a crayfish the size of a quarter inch or 8 inch bait pattern.

As with all fishing, it’s always best to go to the hatch. The flies you cast should imitate the bait in the local area.

What are the differences between fresh and salt?

When people think of fly fishing, they often think of hiking in the mountains and casting along small streams. Although still widely practiced, sport fly fishing has evolved and now targets fish on the fly in a variety of waters. Knowing the differences between fresh and salt water can help you prepare for what may come your way.

Freshwater environments

Most anglers will have access to fresh water. These bodies of water include streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. Fly fishing in these areas has two common themes:

  1. Fish are naturally restricted in these small bodies of water.
  2. The ability to cast a fly doesn’t always have to be perfect.

Compared to the ocean or sea, these areas are limited in size. As a result, these fish tend to stay in the same places and follow the same feeding schedule throughout their lives.

While this makes it much easier to find freshwater species, it also increases the vulnerability of wild fish to overfishing. As fish are harassed and caught, they cannot spawn and reproduce quickly enough because their habitat is limited. Therefore, freshwater lakes and rivers should be stocked by wildlife agencies.

Monitoring native and wild trout species requires more effort and discretion on your part. Wild fish is the holy grail of freshwater fishing. Some of this effort has led fishermen to travel longer distances, climb steeper mountains, or go deep into the woods in search of virgin fish.

As you can imagine, getting to these hidden streams, rivers or lakes can be quite dangerous. A good pair of hiking boots and a well-stocked equipment bag will help you find this terrain.

As you explore these areas, you will find that Pisces finds itself in some difficult situations. It is not uncommon to have to hang a fly from a ledge to present a fly.

You will also find that in most of these places, you cannot throw away enough trash because of the trees and other obstacles behind you. This scenario is one of the major problems in the freshwater fishery. If you know how to make different types of parts and how to use water to charge the core, you will be successful in these situations.

Freshwater fishing is not always a breeze. The boats are used on large lakes and rivers. On many rivers, guided tours are offered, taking you to the shore.

Fishing from a boat makes casting much easier and provides faster coverage. If this is your first time fly fishing or you are not familiar with the area, I highly recommend taking a guide.

Saltwater environment

The main difference between saltwater and freshwater environments is the amount of open space. These areas are generally large and require a lot of effort and knowledge to find fish.  While these open areas allow for less restricted pitching, they present other problems that are often overlooked in freshwater areas.

Farms, flats and creeks are generally difficult to fish on foot. If you have access to a boat, you can cover more ground. The height of the boat is also beneficial for tracking fish over long distances.

When you fish in such large, open areas, you are more exposed to weather conditions, such as wind. If you plan on fishing in saltwater, you need to learn how to cast directly into a strong wind. When I think of places like the Bahamas or the Florida Keys, there is rarely a day when there is no wind. In fact, to better catch certain species, you have to have the wind to get close to the scary fish. If it’s too quiet, you can’t achieve a presentable distance.

After all, there are tides in salt water. Although water levels in rivers and lakes fluctuate, this usually occurs over a period of several months or as a result of precipitation, whereas salt water fluctuates in less than an hour. The tides not only cause problems for shipping, but also determine where to find the fish. A group of fish that was in a certain area of the flax will tend to move when the tides change. This is another success variable for salt capture.

Change your techniques – Fees vs. Salt

Because of the environmental differences between the two, you will need to change your approach if you are moving from one to the other. The biggest difference between fresh and salt water is the way you cast and present the fly.

Freshwater methods

Most freshwater fisheries will be conducted in flowing water. Freshwater species tend to seek out eddies of water behind rocks and other structures.

By sitting in a whirlpool in the water, fish have less energy to waste waiting for their prey to come down the river or stream. While the fish sit and wait, they often look for swimming insects.

When you introduce the fly, it should look as natural as possible. This means that anything that changes the drift of the fly downstream tells the fish that something is wrong.

Pulling the fly line into the water creates a natural resistance that causes the fly to drift at an unnatural speed or angle. In these situations, corrections are necessary.

What is a correction in fly fishing?

The correction is to throw the bow into the line, usually upstream, reducing the drag on the flight line. This allows the fly to drift naturally downstream. When a fly floats naturally, it’s called deadpan drift.

Dead drift is very common and is used to catch dry flies or nymphs. In this way of fishing, you don’t move the fly. For beginners, this is a great way to learn fly fishing because the drift will do most of the work for you.

When catching baitfish, for example. B. with streamers, the fly is fished more actively. This means that you manually pull the fly to create movement.

Banners are thrown like flies in salt water, with a double throw. Banner flies are designed for deep sea fishing. So when your fly lands, let it run for a few seconds by throwing it into a line to reduce drag.

Once the fly has settled, begin to remove it slowly. When you fish with streamers, the fly has to turn with the current. It’s the opposite of Dead Drift.

Hungry fish often feed on bait that mimics a swinging lure. Bannies are some of the most aggressive eaters in freshwater and are my favorite for freshwater fishing. If the fish are not actively feeding on the dries, you can usually get them to bite by switching to streamers.

Freshwater flow

Freshwater casting is more of an art form than the brute force of saltwater casting. As mentioned above, the mobility of actors is often limited, requiring some creative manoeuvring. If you know how to make a simple casting reel, you can present the fly in places where there is no room for a throwback.

What is coil moulding?

Reel casting involves running the line behind your feet and then using the rod and line to make a D across the water. The straight line D represents your staff, and the curved part represents the formation of the line.

Once you’re in position, make a forward throw. When you pull the line into the water, the rod is loaded in such a way that the line comes out in front of you. That’s how he got the name Roll Cast.

If you know how to drive, you can get out of a lot of traffic jams by pitching. Fortunately, in freshwater it is not necessary to make long casts, so any way of getting a fly into the water is generally effective.

Arrow casting

The other usual arrangement is that of Castle Spitz. Although this patch is also used in salt water on windy days, it is more common in fresh water.

The tip consists of throwing the back into a horizontal position and then raising the arm in the air. From this position, then perform the forward throw as usual.

This throw is designed to bring the line into the air on the backward throw to avoid trees or other obstacles that may be behind it. This shot is effective, but I must admit it takes a lot of practice to master.

When the fish strikes in either direction, the hook is set by lifting the rod in the air. It’s called a trout set. When fishing in freshwater, the line is often slack and by lifting the tip of the rod, you can quickly remove the slack when setting the hook.

The best way to take immediate advantage of freshwater fishing is to learn how to use and handle a reel.

Salt water technology

If you’re in salt water, don’t forget to remove it. Most freshwater anglers have trouble with saltwater because the casting distance is too short.

Unlike freshwater fish, where the fish remain motionless, saltwater fish are in constant motion. Not only are they constantly on the move, but they have natural shark-like predators that look a lot like a boat. So they’re pretty nervous and run off quickly. That means your ability to approach them is unusual.

What is double fly fishing?

The most important requirement for saltwater valves is the ability to double the socket.

The double pull technique consists of pulling the line with the hand without throwing to create more load on the forward and backward throws. This additional load allows more parts to be produced and castings to be drilled into the wind.

By imagining a fly in salt water, you are responsible for bringing it back to life. Sea predators have a habit of running away from bait, not from anything dead floating above them. Different types of flies require different techniques for skinning.

If you catch crustaceans, such as shrimp or crabs, the strip is usually short. This makes it look like a shrimp is coming out of the water or a crab is crawling on the bottom.

When you introduce these flies to the fish, the angler will be very important. Prey animals in the wild are unlikely to swim towards a predator. For example, if you do a shot that allows you to cross a fish or take a fly away from a fish, you will often ask for food.

Removing the fly in the direction of the fish is called a negative angle and should be avoided if possible.

The bait patterns consist of a permanent band that imitates the swimming of fish. This track contains long, regular strips that should be accelerated as the fish settle in.

To make the fly float more naturally, many anglers place a rod under their hand and use both hands, one at a time, to make the fly float better. This is called a two-handed drag and is most common when catching tarpon.

When you get hit in the salt, your natural inclination is to grab the rod and set the hook. This should be avoided, and a count should be done instead.

Continue peeling until the fish is completely closed. That’s called group formation. If you lift the top of the rod, you will lose fish in most cases.

Common errors in transition from freshwater to seawater

Anglers make three common mistakes when trying to make the transition from freshwater to saltwater.

  1. Adjust your gear when you fish.

Nothing will annoy your guide or fishing partner more than seeing you blowing on a fish when you should really have a bunch of stripes instead of a trout, or vice versa. By making a conscious effort once you have overcome this habit, you can avoid repeating the same mistake. Don’t blame yourself, because it happens to all of us, but if you constantly remind yourself and think about the process, these things will inevitably become less frequent.

  1. Move the fly too much or too little….

This fisherman is more of a saltwater fisherman than a freshwater fisherman. I’m very guilty of that myself. When transitioning from salt to fresh water, there is a tendency to want to open the fly instead of letting the drift do the work. Before you start fishing, take a good look at your surroundings and pay special attention to how the lure moves through the water. If you exhibit this behavior, you increase your chances of being bitten.

  1. Not knowing what to expect when fishing in new areas.

The internet is a wonderful thing. It’s full of information on all the topics you could want. Use it to learn more about the area or type of fishing before you arrive. Even if you are fishing with a guide, you should be familiar with the fishery and the techniques you will be using. Don’t expect management to lead you to success if you don’t have an idea. If you don’t know what to look for, contact your guide or local flight shop and ask questions. Every bit of local knowledge will improve your business.


The sport of fly fishing continues to develop. More and more people are taking up the challenge of finding new species, fishing in new places and experiencing new things.

If you are considering the transition from freshwater to saltwater fly fishing, knowing what equipment to use, the difference in the environment and changing your technique is a winning combination that will help you succeed.

If you currently fish exclusively in fresh or salt water, I invite you to explore the other side. What makes fly fishing great can be found in both worlds, in their own way.

If you are in St. John’s, Newfoundland Augustine, FL, visit me at for a fishing trip like no other!

frequently asked questions

What is the difference between marine and freshwater fish?

What is the main difference between saltwater and freshwater fish? Saltwater fishing in Steinhatchee generally means fishing in the bay from a boat or dock. … On the other hand, freshwater is more soothing and relaxing for the fisherman.

Can a freshwater fishing rod be used in saltwater?

Technically, you can fish in any body of water with a freshwater rod. However, you should not use a freshwater trout in saltwater unless it has the same characteristics as a saltwater trout, for example. B. Sealed bearings and corrosion resistant materials.

What is the best fly rod?

Top 5 best pods for saltwater fly fishing (2020 Buying Guide) – fly fishing

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